Miliband and Balls? Or Wallace and Gromit?

Jack Carnell takes an in depth look at the relationship between the two figures at the head of the Labour Party.

Up until now I have had mixed feelings about the Labour top two.  Ed Miliband seems to have held up poorly against the strength of the well briefed and quick witted Cameron, and with the self confessed “economic novice” that is Alan Johnson going up against Oxford educated tactician George Osborne, Labours good commons performances have rested mostly on MP departures and economic figures.

However as of the 20th of January, Ed Balls has taken up the post of shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and everything has changed.  Now the leader who has a slight resemblance to Wallace has a Gromit.  Balls has a bark that matches his bite and is rightly named Labours only attack dog.  Since becoming Shadow Chancellor, Balls has written a damning article about Coalition economic policy, appeared all over the media claiming “things are going in the wrong direction” and whilst feeling particularly blood thirsty, pulled a variety of ministers out of their offices and in to the chamber to sink his teeth into, just for fun.

His accession doesn’t look good for Cameron and Osborne.  Up until now Cameron has had to deal with an inexperienced Ed Miliband.  But as Miliband is gaining commons experience battling at the box, he is also gaining a sidekick in the intelligent and skillful Balls, ready to step in if he drops the baton.  As for Osborne, rather than going up against a former union man; he is up against a fellow Oxford grad, a fellow economist and a fellow strategist.  Far from simply towing the party the line, Balls has shaped Labour policy for years and knows the whole lot like the back of his paw.

So, how will the new partnership fair in the public eye?  Will they be as popular as the plastercine Nick Parke creations or well they melt under the spot light?  Well, Balls is not perfect, he helped devise many of the disastrous policies of the Brown era, but he certainly breathes life into the limp Labour front bench.  Publicly at least the two Ed’s  have put aside their differences over a late night chat, but time will tell if the former leadership rivals can really work together for the greater good of the party.  One of the main reasons Balls didn’t get elected was that the party didn’t feel his abrasive nature could appeal to the majority and he, like Gromit, is rarely smiling! However, if the pair really can put such things aside, Milibands speech impediment and slight overbite can give the duo a friendlier face.  If Balls can work around the softer apologetic approach of his boss, doing what he does best, then they could present a ‘no nonsense’ yet warm front to the voting public, a winning combination.

On top of all this the Ed’s are of the same Oxbridge stock as Cameron and Osborne, yet their desire to reduce the pace of cuts is naturally more palatable.  The double act has all the schooling of their Tory opposites and yet have managed to appear ‘of the people’.  Like Wallace and Gromit, they’re friendly, intelligent and each amusing in their own way.  Their policies are much easier to swallow than those of the multi-million pound Tory Two, and no amount of Lib-Dem bashing will rectify this problem.

Is there hope for the coalition?  There is.  Despite the Labour Party having a formidable top two, the coalition still fields a far superior front bench.  The Conservatives have spent years battling in opposition and have enormous experience when contrasted with the fledgling Labour bench.  However, the cuts are coming and Labour is revving up its rhetoric.  Well lead and feeding off public dislike for austerity measures, if Ed and Ed don’t fall apart then it’s likely they could do significant damage to the coalition.

We must bear in mind though that the reason Johnson got the position over Balls in the first place was due to disagreement over party policy.  It is also important to remember the lessons of history.  Balls wields significant power with Labour MP’s and we have all seen the problems of vesting too much power in you’re second.  Perhaps Miliband is right to keep his friends close and his enemies closer.  It is certainly a good idea for Ed Miliband to keep one eye on ‘the big dog’.


I agree that indeed we might, however the point is that johnson was simply out of his depth. He was an economic novice and would have to rely for a good while on his advisors preparing him well. Osborne on the other hand was an economist and of course wrote the policy so would find it far easier at the box to put across his argument. What i am saying is that if you have studied the subject you will be better at it than somebody who hasnt. Johnsons on the job training could have paid off but a labour needs a strong well read shadow at a time when the budget is the talk of the town

Maurice Cryer
Maurice Cryer

Jack Carnell's comments, whilst no doubt true, highlights a significant problem outside the main thrust of his argument ie front bench spokespersons are likely to be better if they are Oxbridge educated. Many of the great front bench tactitions of the past inherited their skills from the rough and tumble of the trade union movement and, had he remained longer, we might have been surprised by Alan Johnson's performances.